Rugby League: Robinson a victim of territorial army

Dave Hadfield suggests Wigan's troubles stem from misjudged loyalty
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When Jack Robinson walked out of Central Park this week it was with that conventional parting shot that he had taken Wigan as far as he could.

"Yes," remarked one supporter bitterly. "To Bolton."

The former Wigan chairman has stood accused of many things, but what really brought him down was a matter of a few hundred yards - the distance that separates Bolton Wanderers' Reebok Stadium from the Wigan borough boundary.

It was there that he miscalculated, believing that he could get away with selling Central Park by convincing the Wigan public that everything would be all right in the end.

All the assurances that there will one day be a new ground in the town, all the logical explanations that selling Central Park was the only way forward, were to no avail. All that Wigan fans could see ahead was exile on the wrong side of the M61 - and they held Robinson responsible.

That is why few in the town were astonished at his departure this week; they were taken aback only by its timing. Robinson had said that he would see it through, at least until the end of the police inquiry into whether a shareholders' meeting earlier this year was conducted correctly. But, by last week, he had had enough.

That is understandable. There has been more than abuse and vilification aimed in his direction over the last year. There has been a nasty element of physical intimidation as well, although Robinson declines to detail it or to blame it for his decision to go.

It will be next week, in fact, before he says anything on the record about his choice of moment, but he insists that his conscience is clear and that he has left the club in better health than is generally believed.

That is clearly not the view of the Rugby League, whose immediate installation of a team to help run the club shows the depth of their concern. It is Robinson's contention that they will find everything above-board, but the suggestion that the team are there merely to help the club out and not to investigate is paper-thin.

As for Robinson, he gave Wigan's match at Oldham on Friday night a miss, in order to let the dust settle a little. But he will be at Bradford tomorrow night, hoping to return to being what he used to be - a fan of the club he grew up watching.

That was the standpoint from which he first became involved at boardroom level 18 years ago, believing that he could not possibly run the club worse than the existing directors were doing. In 1983, he was - with Maurice Lindsay - one of the architects of the coup that reduced the board to the fabled "Gang of Four" who steered the club for the next nine years, until Lindsay departed for the Rugby League.

Robinson's time at the club can be split into two eras - before and after Lindsay's exit. Up until 1992, he shared in a steadily accelerating success story; since then, he has presided over a decline that has been relative, certainly, but a decline none the less.

He clashed with one coach, John Monie, who departed saying he would never return to the club while Robinson remained in charge; he appointed and sacked another, John Dorahy, after their relationship deteriorated into scuffling on the team bus, and he forced out Graeme West and Joe Lydon by not letting them get on with their jobs.

The team, who had to be partially dismantled in an effort to balance the books, have become less and less impressive to a public who became used to constant success. Worst of all, financial necessity forced the sale of Central Park to Tesco, after a plan for the Wigan Athletic chairman, Dave Whelan, to move in and bale the rugby league club out fell through in acrimony that still runs deep.

When he chooses to break his public silence, Robinson will defend much of his legacy. With him, Lindsay, Jack Hilton and Tom Rathbone - the vice- chairman who also resigned this week - at the helm, Wigan enjoyed a decade that precious few clubs in any sport have ever matched.

Many of the measures he has taken since then have been forced on him by the over-stretched budget he inherited, but he cannot protest too much over excesses committed when he was, after all, on the board himself.

Now, although he would always be available to help out the two remaining directors if asked, it is essentially someone else's problem. It remains to be seen whether he will be remembered more for the mountain of silverware that came to Central Park during his stewardship, or for the way that he and, ultimately, the club left a ground that aroused such fierce local loyalties.